Many Christian denominations have established special Holy Week traditions connected to the Easter message of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. However, palm Sunday, Holy Monday, Teaching Tuesday, Spy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday are traditions not commanded in the Bible.
Palm Sunday is the day that begins the week. In biblical times, palms were a symbol of triumph and victory. John 12:12-13 tells us that people waved them in front of Jesus as He entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before His crucifixion. What a king would ride on indicated much about his status and purpose. A donkey was an animal of peace, and a horse was an animal of war. Jesus came on a donkey showing the focus of His earthly ministry. Interestingly, this was prophesied some 500 years before Christ’s birth (Zechariah 9:9).
Romans 14:5-8 reminds us that even though some people consider one day or week more sacred than another, that should not be a source of division or conflict. Instead, the Bible tells us to remember Christ’s sacrifice to free us from sin and guilt and His resurrection conquering death. The teachings of Jesus are very different from any other religious system on the planet, and that difference is what Christ calls us to focus on.
In John 13:34, Christ calls us to obey a “new commandment” – to love one another. The Greek word is “agape,” referring to a unique form of love that tells us to consider all humans as having immeasurable worth. In John 13:3-10 Jesus calls His followers to have an attitude of service, and He sets the example by washing His disciples’ feet.
Holy Week traditions are well intended, but we must not allow them to distract us from hearing and following the actual teachings Christ gave. Our culture tends to focus on Easter eggs, new clothing, and sumptuous meals while neglecting Christ’s instructions for living. Christ opposed legalism and the failure to love and serve. Every day, we must celebrate what Christ’s sacrifice has done for us. We need to live out “pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father,” visiting “the fatherless and widows in their affliction,” and “keeping ourselves unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
There are many similarities between the events of January 6 in Washington D.C. and the biblical account of what happened to Jesus Christ. We can learn some lessons from Holy Week and January 6, 2021.
People of both political parties came to Washington D.C. on that Wednesday morning with a feeling of optimism and renewal. As Zechariah 9:9 had prophesied, Jesus came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, an animal of peace, not a horse which was an animal of war. The people’s response was to spread palm branches, a symbol of triumph and victory, in front of Him.
Jesus began his tenure in Jerusalem by throwing the religious crooks out of the Temple (Matthew 21:12-13). He initiated good things by healing the blind and lame (verses 14-15). Some good leaders came to Washington D.C. on January 6 to allegedly do some good things.
The people’s actions in Jerusalem brought jealousy to the establishment, who thought they were losing control. They challenged Jesus’ authority and tried to put him at odds with the Roman courts (Matthew 21:23-27). When that failed, they secured an extremist’s support to advance their cause (Matthew 26:14-16).
On January 6, extremists were motivated to attack the authorities in power resulting in violence. Not only was there damage to the physical structures of Washington, but several people died. The people of Jerusalem were motivated to accept and even promote the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. At the same time, the politicians washed their hands and turned their backs on the violence that was being carried out.
There are many lessons from Holy Week and January 6 in Washington that are hard to miss. No matter what your political beliefs or religious convictions, or lack of them, the comparisons are strong.
People are crazy. Humans can be led, and their price is cheap. Judas sold out Christ for what in our money would be about $120.
Whether they are secular or religious, most politicians will stop at nothing to advance their own standing. Breaking religious law (read Leviticus and Deuteronomy) or violating the U.S. Constitution is easy when it involves greed, jealousy, and power struggles.
Journalists are biased and interpret the news rather than reporting it. As you read Matthew 26:59-60, you find two false witnesses saying that Jesus said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God.” That was a half-truth. The witnesses and the religious leaders interpreted that to mean the Temple made of stone when Jesus had made it clear it was His body. The news media on all sides of the January 6 event interpreted the news.
The similarities between Holy Week and January 6 end withthe resurrection of Christ. Even today, many people deny the evidence and maintain their conviction that Jesus was a fraud. Some people will not change their political agenda no matter what the evidence. Indeed, the importance of “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21) cannot be over-emphasized.
Since February 17, 2021, people have been observing the season of lent, a period of extreme religious tradition. It began on Shrove Tuesday when people burn palms from the Palm Sunday events of last year and place the ashes on their foreheads for Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday officially began the season of Lent, which is the 40 days leading up to Easter. Today, Sunday, March 28, is called Palm Sunday to celebrate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem when people hailed Him as a king and placed palm branches in His path. Then follows Holy Monday and Tuesday, remembering the challenges to Jesus by the Pharisees. Spy Wednesday recalls the bargaining of Judas with the Pharisees. Maundy Thursday celebrates the Last Supper, and Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion. Black Saturday tells of Jesus descending into hades. The Holy Week ends with Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection.
The Catholic Church over the centuries has commemorated these days, but they are not biblical commands. The spin-offs from all of this are enormous. Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday was a feasting time with particular emphasis on pancakes and sweets of all kinds. Some people call it “Fat Tuesday,” and in French, that title is Mardi Gras. The word “lent” comes from “lencten,” an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “spring season.” The use of ashes was a Jewish tradition indicating penitence.
None of these traditions were commanded by Christ or any of the apostles. Even the word “Easter” used in Acts 12:45 in the King James translation is actually a reference to the Passover when the plagues in Egypt freed the Hebrews from slavery. The first-century Church celebrated the resurrection every Sunday, so there was no Sunday deemed more important than the others.
We all need to be reminded of the death and resurrection of Christ. But adding to the biblical account has not only precipitated the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Easter Bunny, decorated eggs, and a variety of celebrations in different cultures.
The Holy Week is a human attempt to remind the world that Jesus came, died, and rose from the grave and that His sacrifice has blessed all of humanity. None of it is wrong, and we applaud the dedication of many who participate in these things. At the same time, we need to realize that God does not enslave us with rituals and added burdens. Jesus said it best “Come all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) We can appreciate cultural expressions of the gospel message in the season of lent, but we must not be oppressed by them.